motorcycle memo's w/Tom McCarthy

2020 Vision: Women in Top Fuel Motorcycle Drag Racing

On December 12, 2019, the NHRA officially licensed its first woman Top Fuel Harley drag bike pilot to compete in Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley competition. Janette Thornley of North Carolina is now NHRA legal and is well on her way into NHRA Top Fuel Harley motorcycle drag racing competition. When she decides to throw a leg over her Top Fuel bike during NHRA Mello Yello event competition this season, she will be the first woman to do so in this class.


While some members of the motorcycle drag racing community are ready to welcome this eventuality, others are not. It does not serve the topic well, nor the sport, to name names here and incite heroes versus villains. Instead let us get right to the crux of the matter that haunts the naysayers: some people, mostly males, feel that women just don’t have the body strength and size to handle a Top Fuel motorcycle.


This kind of thinking is without foundation and history proves this mindset to be a fallacy.


Many of the most accomplished Top Fuel motorcycle drag racers throughout the history of the sport were small in size but large in performance results. Jimmy Bernard, TC Christensen, Joe Smith, Danny Johnson, Ray Price, Jim McClure -- every one of them, in their prime when they were racing, were all slight of weight yet highly skilled, tremendously successful Top Fuel motorcycle drag racers. Veterans of the sport will likely remember the name Russ Collins - he was 150 pounds of cigar chomping determination piloting some of the most powerful and evil TF motorcycles ever created. He is also a true legend in drag racing.


Top Fuel Harley flyweight pilots Bobby Spina, 160 pounds since his high school days and Steve Stordeur at 165 pounds kicked ass every event they entered on a 200 MPH Top Fuel Harley. Both of these men have won dozens of national championships with multiple sanctions and have set many a national record on their Top Fuel motorcycles. In the modern era, Rickey House and Bobby Malloy both do the same.


As for the inline four-cylinder crowd, old “7-0h-Bo” Mr. Bo O’Brochta was close to 140 pounds soaking wet. Better yet, in the modern era, Geoff Pollard weighed in at 140 pounds when he entered the MTC 5-Second Club in 2009.

In today’s world of Top Fuel motorcycle drag racing, Chris Hand, another member of the MTC 5-Second Club (2013), is also normally at 160 pounds before suiting up.


So, to address the question is it necessary that a drag bike pilot needs to be big and brawny to effectively pilot a Top Fuel motorcycle, the answer is no. History has shown us otherwise.


If one were to ask some of today’s leading Top Fuel motorcycle drag bike pilots the question “What do you feel are the most important attributes of a Top Fuel motorcycle drag bike pilot” what would they say?  Consider the following answers please.


Larry “Spiderman” McBride, a Top Fuel motorcycle drag racer with over 40 years of experience and 20 TFM championships to his credit answered, “I think being tall is an advantage these days and being in great shape is a must. You also need to be able to stay very focused at all times.”


Korry Hogan, the first Top Fuel motorcycle pilot to crest 255 MPH commented “Being physically strong enough to wrestle one of these monsters down the alley is one thing, but having the mental ability to make good decisions when you are covering a football field in less than one second is another. To me, mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness.


“I honestly think having the ability to shut out the reality of what you’re doing at that moment while still making good driving decisions is ultra-important. Your brain and body are making calculated movements to keep the motorcycle in the groove and at the same time, you’re sometimes trying to control wheel spin with your wrist to maintain traction while still trying to be as aerodynamic as possible.”


Jaska Salakari: “A good Top Fuel pilot needs to have presence of mind and they must understand and know their own limits. They also need to possess a genuine passion for nitro bikes with an ardent desire to produce a quicker elapsed time.”


Bob Spina, Top Fuel Harley drag racing veteran said, “Learning to be ahead of the motorcycle, that is, being able to anticipate the bike’s movement before it happens is very important. Because once it happens, by then, it’s usually too late to correct it. Top racers like the Spiderman, Bobby Malloy, Jay Turner, obviously have this ability. They have been doing this longer than most the racers out there today. They have survived going extremely fast in an extreme sport – this is proof they stay ahead of their motorcycle!”


Tii Tharpe commented, “I believe that the ability to remain calm and focus on the task at hand are paramount. One needs to know their beliefs, limits and strengths. Then they need to have the conviction to hold tight to them. Outside of that, have fun!”


Filippos Papafilippou commented, “Quick reactions and reflexes are necessary as well as a good dimensional understanding (spatial awareness) during a run. Also having the abilities to apply early quick decisions on a run. One must control your adrenalin and emotions in such a way as to remain calm. Most of all you have to have equality and total respect of your fellow competitors and their efforts."


Women have been involved in motorcycle drag racing competition since the sport became an organized form of competition in the 1960’s. Over the years many women in various classes have held fuel bike competition licenses and indeed raced in the Top Fuel bike class with sanctions like the AHDRA, the AMRA and other sanctions. In the USA, women like Kris Becker, Pam Cummings, Doris Wiggins, Kerstin Hopkins, Carrie Seifert, Becky Froehling and Connie Cohen has competed. Likewise, in Europe there have been women fuel bike racers such as Anna-Lena Asplund and Carina Sjutte of Sweden, Kristin Hegre of Norway and Danielle Dieudonne of France. All the aforementioned women have piloted the big angry fuel bikes and more will follow.


20-20 vision dictates that there will be others who will follow Janette Thornley’s lead and race into the future in the Top Fuel motorcycle class. Men who doubt this need to get over it, or they will get run over by this fact of life: women Top Fuel motorcycle pilots are here and in the future we will see more of them. 



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